‘Afraid for our kids’: Flying foxes move in to primary school
PARENTS are considering boycotting a North Queensland primary school after roosts of flying foxes moved in over the school holidays, prompting fears for children's safety.
It comes as Hinchinbrook Mayor Ramon Jayo expressed frustration at the Department of Education's lack of action after thousands of flying foxes moved into trees surrounding Ingham State School.
Hinchinbrook Mayor Ramon Jayo said the devastating New South Wales bushfires, prevailing dry and hot conditions and the return of the migratory little red flying fox species had drastically swollen the bat population in recent weeks.
That had created an overflow from the Ingham Memorial Botanic Gardens in the Central Business District to trees that hang over the rear entrance of the school and a playground for prep-school aged students, he said.
Walkways leading to the rear of the property are coated in bat droppings, leaving a stench that parents say is intolerable, as well as the occasional dead bat, with many carrying the Australian bat lyssavirus, which is related to the rabies virus.
"While we don't have any real means or power or whatever to disperse bats from the Botanical Gardens, we definitely don't want the establishment of another roost anywhere, so we do go in and try to disturb that from happening," Cr Jayo said.
He said the council had notified the department that bats had begun to roost on school land but was forced to take action the day after New Year's Day when the council had not received a response.
"We know that we don't want the bats near our kids, so if the education department won't take action we will," he said.
"At the end of the day the responsibility for management is that of the landowner but in years gone past there hasn't been much action taken [by the department] … they have to show some kind of level of responsibility and try and assist us in keeping that area free of bats."
The council's current method of keeping bats away from the school, particularly during the morning roosting period, was clapping pieces of steel together.
"Surely they may have a person who is capable of clapping pieces of steel together."
Parents vented their frustration on the 'Ingham Bat Action Group' Facebook page, with one mother saying she was "afraid for our kids".
"Will we be keeping kids at school inside all day in 2020? Do we close the school?" Rachael Kurz said.
Jack Mackay said closing the schools would "force our governments to take some drastic action".
"By boycotting the school even for a couple of days sends a clear message to them and also the education department that we cannot afford a child's death."
Hinchinbrook Chamber of Commerce president Rachael Coco said as a parent of two young children at the school the influx of bats was "distressing".
"Upon realising the roost had expanded so close to the school grounds over the Christmas holidays, I contacted the Education Department and council to ensure that the flying foxes would be dispersed before school starts but also to try to encourage better co-operation between departments and authorities to monitor and manage the situation into the future," she said.
"It is alarming to hear parents talking about boycotting a school that we all love dearly, but the safety and wellbeing of our children is the number one priority for any parent."
As chamber president, she said the bats adversely impacted local businesses and any roost expansion into Palm Terrace and Eleanor Street caused "greater concerns".
"The noise, odour and health risks posed by flying foxes in urban roosts do not provide for optimal business conditions, both with respect to customer experience and the safety of staff."
In a statement to the Herbert River Express, the department said it considered "the health and safety of students and staff the highest priority".
"The department is aware that flying foxes are sometimes present in trees adjacent to Ingham State School grounds. Flying foxes are found in many communities across Queensland," a spokesperson said.
"The department continues to work closely with the Hinchinbrook Shire Council regarding possible solutions to concerns raised by the community in relation to the flying foxes."
It said the school also employed various measures to ensure students were not exposed to hazards, including regular cleaning of external structures and putting in place temporary exclusion zones in affected areas.
"Students and staff have been informed by the school of recommended behaviours around flying foxes, including advice that they should not be touched or picked up."